MUMBAI, India – A bishop in India has thanked the local government for removing a COVID-19 treatment clinic from the diocesan pastoral center, reversing a decision to convert the entire campus into a quarantine facility.
Bishop Alwyn Barreto of the Diocese of Sindhudurg had granted permission in April to use part of the Navsarni Kendra Pastoral Center into a quarantine facility for COVID-19 patients, but the local government then announced plans to take over the entire campus without the consent of the diocese.
“I am happy and grateful to the guardian minister who has cleared the Diocesan Pastoral Centre, Sawantwadi from the COVID-19 Center. It is the only institution where all our diocesan offices are situated, and all the diocesan activities take place. God heard our prayers,” Barreto told Crux.
Sindhudurg is in the southern tip of the state of Maharashtra, 308 miles from the state capital Mumbai. The site of several historic forts and beautiful beaches, it is a popular tourist destination.
Navsarni Kendra Pastoral Center is used to host retreats and has over 30 individual rooms for guests, as well as dormitory space for 20 people. In addition, it has several conference rooms.
However, it is also the location of the diocesan offices, and several priests live on the campus.
The center’s chapel also hosts special religious services for the diocese, and the diocese is trying to prepare for the resumption of religious services in the chapel as lockdown measures ease in India.
As of Friday, India had 490,401 confirmed positive tests for the COVID-19 coronavirus, with 15,301 deaths attributed to the disease.
India is the fourth most-affected country globally after the United States, Brazil and Russia. Cases have continued to rise in the country as migrant day laborers have returned to their home villages in the countryside since there is no work in the cities.
However, the country’s health ministry has touted a recovery rate of over 57 percent and the fact the deaths per 100,000 rate of 1.86, which is a third of the world average.
The country imposed a lockdown in March, but houses of worship have been allowed to hold services since June 8.
“The Navsarni Kendra Pastoral Center is the only place where we organize our religious activities. The government authorities planned to make it COVID center without our consent,” Barreto said.
“We hope that the authorities may understand that the priests stay in this building. Most of our offices are situated in the premises. The social center which reached out to many families is also placed there. The online Masses were streamed from this center. Five aged priests who resided at the center were moved out to different institutions as a safety measure. The lay faithful were also upset with this arbitrary decision,” he explained to Crux.
Although located near the border with Goa – the former Portuguese territory with a large Catholic population – the Diocese of Sindhudurg has less than 30,000 Catholics that make up 0.4 percent of the population.
The bishop and other diocesan officials met with the local authorities to discuss the issue.
On June 19, Shri Uday Samat, the Guardian Minister of Sindhudurg, issued an order for all government authorities to immediately vacate the campus so that the diocese can resume its regular religious activities.
However, Barreto was quick to point out this doesn’t mean the Church isn’t involved in dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Diocese of Sindhudurg has given our Institutions as quarantine centers, we have been actively involved in giving rations and food to the stranded migrants, and jobless daily wage laborers and the poor affected by the lockdown. Over 1000 families have been given food and rations,” he said.